2015 in Books

_2015I’m going to go ahead and write my reading review before the new year this time, because I don’t have the slightest intention of finishing another book before 2016 rolls around. Aren’t you so happy? It’s like an early Christmas present, only it’s an early New Year’s present! That no one actually wants!

By way of shortcut, if you want a straightforward list of books read this year, you can get that here for another couple of weeks, and then here afterward. Or you can check my Goodreads 2015 reckoning if you’d prefer.

Every year I go through and make lists and graphs to analyze my reading, to absolutely no purpose because it’s not as if I ever make adjustments or anything. I read what I like when I like to read it and do my best to feel no shame when that ends up being a long string of vampire-infested romance novels. (Although, I’d argue strenuously that this year’s quasi-embarrassing series, The Black Dagger Brotherhood, might be more accurately described as¬†romance-infested vampire novels.) Then I take those lists and graphs and turn them into a blog post that I’m sure pretty much no one actually enjoys except myself — and they are a highlight of my New Year every time. ūüôā

If you’re the rare individual who actually¬†does find this interesting, you can find my previous years-in-books here: 2014,¬†2013, 2012,2011, and¬†2010.

I track my books on Goodreads and do their annual reading challenge, in which you just set a goal and try to read that many books. This wasn’t a particularly great year for my reading, and I honestly wouldn’t have met my goal if I hadn’t included a handful of picture books that I read with Henry or on my own in December. This has been a really full-speed-ahead year at work, plus I’ve spent the majority of the year in varying degrees of “pregnant with a two-year-old,” so my stats are down. But since I just do it for the fun of it anyway, I’m not concerned.

This year I set a goal of 75 books and ended up reading 81. That isn’t as great as last year’s even 100, but it isn’t the worst of the past six years I’ve been tracking.

Books_Read_2010-2015_View_2

That comes out to about 25,000 pages this year.

Pages_Read_2010-2015_View_2

As a teacher, I definitely have “seasons” ¬†for reading. I obviously get a lot more read in the summer than in the school year, usually with a spike in December/January due to Christmas break and the really long dark evenings here. I like to track month-to-month reading, again just for the heck of it.

Here’s this year in books, monthly:

Books_Read_in_2015Pages_Read_in_2015
That’s a nice bump in books in December, but not so much pages — lots of picture books. ūüôā As anticipated, my real peak reading took place in July.

And of course, because there’s no such thing as too many graphs, I compared monthly reading for the past six years:

Books_Read_2010-2015Pages_Read_2010-2015

These are kind of interesting to me (although getting harder to read each year — may no longer be a usable format) because I can see not only how each year stacks up to the next, but whether I have a consistent trend in terms of when I’m doing my reading. Why was the late winter of 2011 such a humdinger? What was the difference between the late fall of 2011 vs. 2013? Intriguing.

As previously noted, this year I devoted a lot of pages to J. R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series, which is an interesting beast. I absolutely despise the titles and covers of these books, to the point where I have on many instances refused to read them in public and do my best to hide my updates on them from my Facebook and Goodreads feed. Why, you might ask? Well, let me allow some pictures to speak for themselves.

covers

At a glance, it’s pretty obvious what these books are about, right? Lover this, lover that, shirtless people necking. What¬†are you reading, Mrs. Baker? Scandalous!

In fact, although there are some pretty detailed¬†steamy scenes in each of these, they really aren’t romance novels at all. They’re urban fantasy action/adventure stories about a group of vampiric soldiers who fight a (somewhat vaguely-explained) ongoing war against bad guy slayers while also battling various psychological or physiological battles in their personal lives. Lots of fight scenes, suspenseful storylines, intrigue, etc.. And in fairness, in each book, one of the vampires falls in love and is saved (literally and/or figuratively) by the object of his affection… so I guess that’s what makes them romance novels, in a blood-drenched Byronic sort of way. They’re fun, fast-paced, and don’t require a lot of emotional or mental investment, which is pretty perfect for me at this stage in my life. So yeah, romance-infested vampire novels, rather than vampire-infested romance novels.

But I mean…¬†seriously. Were these titles and cover art decisions really necessary? Were they Ward’s idea or did she fall victim to a publisher who wanted to market these their way? The titles alone sometimes have only a tangential relationship to the plot — my “favorite” probably being Lover Avenged, in which vengeance played a really minor role in the big scheme of things. And the covers? Again —¬†seriously? Of the sampling above, only¬†Lover Avenged¬†and perhaps Lover Mine¬†(top left and bottom right corners)¬†really reflect the characters within in any way; the others are all anonymous torsos airbrushed to emphasize the HOT SEXINESS of these books while I’m just sitting here, reading about vamp-warriors beating the crap out of bad guys and trying to hide the cover of my paperback. Stupid problems, I know.

I read a fairly unmemorable smattering of fantasy in an attempt to find another series that held my interest as effectively as the Dresden Files. The best of these was the Monster Hunter series by Larry Correia, an author I wrestled with because I find his Sad Puppy¬†associations quite distasteful, but whose books are pure fun for someone who likes the sort of books I like. His Hard Magic series, which was the interesting blend of alt-history urban fantasy, was also a lot of fun. I also finished, with some sadness, Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series, which I enjoyed very much and will probably end up re-reading at some point.

I also read some rather good picture books, a couple of decent graphic novels, the slightly-disappointing next installment in Kiera Cass’s Selection series, the really-quite-good¬†Seraphina, and the excellent-as-expected¬†Lock In¬†and¬†The Human Division¬†(AND I got to meet the author!) I also read a couple of good “serious” books, my favorite of which was¬†All the Light We Cannot See by homeboy Anthony Doerr. Oh, and I read the first two volumes in the¬†Game of Thrones series, which I enjoyed, but hadn’t been especially inspired to go on to the next book just yet.

My least favorite books of the year were¬†Halfway to the Grave¬†(just unremarkable),¬†Go Set a Watchman¬†(yep, should not have been published),¬†As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride¬†(which I really wanted to like but just found disappointing),¬†The Unbearable Lightness of Dragons¬†(ditto, but not surprised — I haven’t been able to enjoy these books since the focus shifted away from Aisling Grey), and¬†Loki’s Wolves¬†(for which I had high hopes, but turned out to be a weak Percy Jackson knockoff — and given my mediocre opinion of PJ, that’s saying something).

And my 2015 obscure recommendation for all y’all out there in DYHJ-land?

The Giant Beard that Was Evil

I really got a kick out of this graphic novel. It’s unlike anything I’d ever read before. Thought-provoking, aesthetically intriguing, and readable on multiple levels — like, I’ve had sixth graders check it out and find it fun and silly, and I’ve also imagined a unit where I use it with twelfth graders alongside¬†1984 to discuss dystopia/utopia, societal norms/taboos, and philosophy. It may be a little hard to get your hands on it, as it’s not the cheapest book ever, but it was published in October 2014 so you can still find it on Amazon and in your better libraries (like mine ;)).

Lest I forget, here’s my annual Pie Chart of Genre Happiness:

Genre_Breakdown_2015

 

I categorize books into as many genres as seem appropriate — usually between 1-3 — and see how things break down. Every year, urban fantasy/paranormal romance makes up a good chunk of my reading; it’s just what I like to read for fun, especially in the dark winter months. Picture books honestly make up a bigger chunk than is represented, but I only count them once, and then only if they have something akin to a plot, were worth the trouble to log into Goodreads and mark them down, and if I remember to do it (or am coming up short on my yearly goal and need to bump up my stats). This year was shockingly bad for MG/YA books — I’ve had a hard time getting my mind to focus on “professional reading,” which this is for me, and there haven’t been as many new releases that commanded my attention. Will need to try harder next year. Somehow my label for general/realistic fiction lost its tail; it’s the sagey-green wedge between fantasy and graphic novel.

 

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Reading Updates #22 & 23

SGF Reading

Reading Update: Today is Thursday, June 12. It is summer break and I have completely forgotten to do my reading updates for the past week and a half. Take me out of the school and my internal calendar completely breaks down! As of today I have read 59 books toward my new goal of 100 books.

Since last time, I’ve read the following three books:

weeks22and23

Crown of Midnight¬†is book two in a series and manages a rare feat: it is a rare sequel that greatly surpasses the first book! I thought book 1 was sort of meh, but something about the story brought me back for book 2. Now I’m aggravated that I have to wait for book 3 (and am planning to read the prequel collection pretty soon here). I’m also a little disturbed about this book’s popularity with preteen boys; they DEFINITELY warrant a YA sticker by the time we get to¬†Crown!

Finally finished up volume 1 of¬†The Absolute Sandman. ¬†I feel like it’s kind of wrong to rate it because I’m caught mid-story, so I don’t really know how the whole thing will fall together. At this stage I ended up giving it a 4 of 5, just because it hadn’t yet earned that fifth star for me (unfinished story) and because I still, as always, struggle with the visual format. I’m just such a wordie, and I don’t find it easy to read a narrative with so much left unsaid. Comic books (which this is, really, as opposed to a graphic novel) always leave me a little disoriented.

I picked up¬†Affliction because I had to. I’m a devotee of this series even though it has started to SUCK (and not in a vampire way). To my complete and utter glee, this was actually a good book! It had a plot! Things happened! Not just¬†things, but things OTHER THAN sexcapades and long philosophical conversations! Yeah, there was a zombie apocalypse, and I’m not much of a zombie person, but this book was good old-fashioned classic Anita Blake and I loved it. Here’s hoping Hamilton has more like it in mind for books 23+.

Currently Reading:¬†Right now I’m s-l-o-w-l-y reading an issue of Mental Floss,¬†because that’s about where my ability to focus is these days.

Looking Ahead: The Maas prequels, maybe?

Reading Update #19

SGF Reading MDE

Reading Update: Today is Monday, May 12. As of today I have read 45 books in 2014 and am, accordingly, 87% of the way toward my goal. I definitely think I am going to be changing that goal here pretty soon! Since last time, I finished the following books:

week19 reading

The One is the finale of the Selection trilogy. There are a lot of YA trilogies out there, and most of them seem to be dystopian yarns; the Selection is no exception in that regard, but it¬†is exceptional in that it was entirely satisfying and devoid of most of the darkness and angst that characterize most of its cohort. Yes, bad and dark things happen, and there are bad and dark characters — but I never felt like this trilogy was going to give me an ulcer, and it never made me cry. Instead, it made me want more time to read, and then it made me want more story to read when I was done. No one is going to claim that this trilogy is a Great Masterpiece of Youth Literature, but I will happily claim that it is one of my favorite things I’ve read this year.

The Princess Test is a long-form retelling of “The Princess and the Pea,” although¬†long may be stretching things a bit — it’s really just a short story, typeset in such a way that it makes up an entire (small) book. In order to flesh out the story beyond its usual parameters, Gail Carson Levine adds extra challenges beyond the expected pea-under-mattresses and afflicts her monarchs with a predilection for excessive¬†synonyms. It was a cute, quick little tale.

The Princess and the Pea is a graphic novel adaptation of the more traditional tale that I remembered from my childhood. Nothing too exciting here, including the artwork (which seemed a bit like that of a high school manga fan), but a nice introduction to the fairy tale for the visually oriented.

Red, White, and Blood is the third in the Nathaniel Cade/President’s Vampire series. The concept here is that there is a vampire in the President’s Secret Service, sworn by an old voodoo oath to protect the President and the United States at the cost of his own vampiric nature. That vampiric nature, of course, is at the cost of Cade’s morality, and so even as the vampire fights the forces of darkness (both supernatural and human) he also fights a battle within himself: is he worse than a beast, or is he redeemable? Farnsworth is a local guy, a heck of a researcher, and a fellow who spins a fine suspense novel. It’s not overly vampy, isn’t weighed down with historical tidbits, and walks that lovely line between scary and exciting. I love these books and, even though they’re (again) no great masterpieces, I highly recommend them.

Currently Reading:¬†I have Possession¬†(book 5 in the Fallen Angels series, a dreadful guilty pleasure of mine) for on-the-road, and a MASSIVE copy of the first volume of The Absolute Sandman at home. It stays safely at home because it’s the public library’s, and I don’t want anything to happen to it (as it’s rather wildly expensive) and it seems like it might be somewhat safer there.

Looking Ahead:¬†I hope I can get hold of Volume 2 of¬†Sandman. Beyond that, there are several YA titles on my radar, and the kids are almost done using the library, so soon I’ll have my pick of the litter. I think the first one there is¬†Daughter of Smoke and Bone; I checked it out and was going to read it next, but a kiddo just put it on hold, and they only have the next week to get and read books, so I’ll probably bring it back for her and get it again this summer.

Reading Update #9

SGF Reading

Reading Update:¬†It is Monday, March 3, and as of today I’ve read 21 books toward my goal of 52 for the year. I’m beginning to think that I may want to change that goal earlier as opposed to later; I never dreamed I’d be almost halfway there before April. Of course, a lot of my reading has been less than totally intellectually challenging or time-consuming.

In the past week, I’ve read three books. One of them — a baby book called Red Dog —¬†doesn’t have a cover image¬†anywhere online. Here are the other two:

2bks

Jane, the Fox & Me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault, is a very beautiful illustrated story — graphic novel? sorta? — about a girl in Montreal who finds herself ostracized and bullied by the girls she once thought of as friends. Unhappy with her life, her changing body, her clothes, H√©l√®ne¬†hides away inside the world of¬†Jane Eyre¬†and uses it as a lodestone for the better life she hopes one day to find.¬†The fox comes into play when¬†H√©l√®ne goes to a school camp, encounters the titular creature, and makes a new friend. It is beautifully illustrated and a lovely sort of thing to read on a drizzly afternoon. A lot of women/girls will be able to empathize with¬†H√©l√®ne.

Where¬†Jane. the Fox & Me¬†is lovely and intimate,¬†Boxers¬†is awful and epic. The first in a pair of graphic novels (the second is¬†Saints, which I hope to read this week) about the Boxer Rebellion of China in 1898-1900, it challenged, disturbed, and educated me. For those not in the know (like me, pre-reading), the Boxer Rebellion was a violent uprising against foreigners — specifically Christians. This book puts the reader on Little Bao’s team, makes him a sympathetic and even inspiring character, and then makes the reader watch as Little Bao commits atrocities. Except, of course, you’re left wondering what “atrocity” means, and what the spread of Christianity really looks like to the non-Christian world, and ultimately it’s all just kind of hard to read (and impossible to put down). The illustrations will make this accessible to younger readers, but the subject matter makes it a book suitable for adults. If you’d like to know more, I encourage you to check out this review from GLW.

Currently Reading:¬†I have been flipping through a couple of different books. I’m going to go ahead and claim¬†Saints, although I haven’t opened it yet, because I know I’m going to read it in the next day or two. I think¬†City of Dark Magic is going to stick (that is, I think I’ll end up finishing it) although I’m not going to make any promises just yet. Other books on my “I’ve read a few pages but I’m not committing yet” list include Outlander and These Broken Stars.

Looking Ahead: Probably could have lumped this category in with the previous.